There are so many prerequisites of actual experience needed to understand the identity crises that Black American men (specifically men) go through while growing into adulthood. With this in mind, I always try to give background on whatever position I may take on an issue. In this particular instance, it was a little more age, a little more understanding and a just few experiences that changed how I feel about the positions of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois.
From the ages of 15 and about 22 years old, I ignorantly and openly made it clear that I disagreed with the methods that Washington thought Black Americans should have taken to educate and grow as a people. Washington felt as though Blacks should continue their menial jobs while quietly getting their educations to avoid hinderances from whites. I hated the idea of that; I felt as though it was cowering.
A few short years outside of my predominately black upbringing would change that though. The Talented Tenth principles of W.E.B. Dubois now seemed to be a mockery to the other 90% of the population. You see, my problem was that I had somehow subconsciously assumed that I would have been part of the elite ten percent of blacks that would fight day and night for the equality of the other 90%. I didn’t see that I was obviously part of the 90%… Seriously, if I look at the literal interpretation of DuBois’ equation, I would not have even known anyone in the Talented Tenth. As I grew in real world experience, I realized that I had way more in common with Booker T. Washington than I had with DuBois.
DuBois was born a free man to free parents. He went to school an integrated school where he received encouragement to be the man the he was. Dubois understood his direct lineage on both his paternal and fraternal side. These differences automatically granted him a sense of privilege that would bar him from understanding the cautious views of Washington.
Washington was born a slave. His father was was a white man that his mother never identified to him. He was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, not by purchased freedom or lottery or anything else; but simply because of the change in law. Washington knew neither his name nor his birthday. He had nearly no sense of identity.
Now let’s fast forward to the year 2015. I wouldn’t trust a soul — a black one or a white one — to make sure I get to the top after they’ve already made it there. I feel like Booker T. Washington had it right now. If we all progress together, the network of support, value and individual self-worth would be a lot more efficient than relying on an elite small percentage to carry an inept larger percentage. No organization, civilization or even structure is built from the top downward, but rather from the bottom upward. What if half of the elite renege on their end of the bargain? No. I don’t trust it. Even though Dubois’ Tenth would have been concentrated at changing laws and educating the people, that was still too small of a net to capture the entire problem.
Each man did exceptionally greater than what I may ever realize in my lifetime; with DuBois’ work extending far outside of the United States. As educators, writers, thinkers and leaders, I can only hope to be as glorious of either of them. The fear that I have though, is that in another five years or so, I will lean back towards the views of DuBois over Washington. It’s not that I fear either position — I fear the time that it takes me to find solid ground on how I identify with being Black in America.